The best movie so far of 2007 is one in which Rose McGowan, best known to TV audiences as a kind witch on "Charmed," has her leg chopped off and replaced by a snap-on semi-automatic machine gun.
"Planet Terror," directed by Robert Rodriguez, is one film of the double bill called "Grindhouse" that opens Friday and should be a monster hit among teens, film enthusiasts and, maybe, monsters.
The other half of "Grindhouse" is Quentin Tarantino's "Death Proof," a sort of two-parter within itself concerning a psychotic stunt man (Kurt Russell) who terrorizes beautiful young women until he comes across his donnybrook in the form of three crusading lasses (Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms, Zoe Bell) in a 1970 Dodge Challenger.
McGowan has a small role in that film, as well, and there are a couple of overlapping characters from the first movie.
The idea here is to send up C movies (not even B) that used to run on double bills at drive-ins and the sort of movie theaters that seemed like haunted houses.
The film stock is even manipulated so that it looks warped, scratched or dirty, as if it had spooled off the projector onto the floor and left there a while.
The film often sputters and jumps on purpose to give the impression that it's a really cheap production. Indeed, the double bill presentation even carries a warning that some reels may be missing and, in fact, they are.
All of this is very, very cool, as is the music, the locales ("Planet Terror" is set in Austin, Texas; "Death Proof" shot in Central California masquerading as the Tennessee countryside) and the makeup (there's blood spurting everywhere).
But it's up to the actors to pull off all this tongue-in-cheek stuff, and they are all up to snuff. McGowan and Freddy Rodriguez are the nominal stars of "Planet Terror," and they couldn't be better as they battle puss-oozing zombies who've invaded Austin.
McGowan is sensational as a plucky leather-clad biker chick who learns to aim her machine gun stump in all the right places.
The rest of that film's cast — Marley Shelton, Jeff Fahey, Michael Biehn, Josh Brolin, Michael Parks, Naveen Andrews from "Lost"— are perfect because they're B movie refugees in the first place.
Add in Stacy Ferguson, aka Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas for sheer trivia value, and you've got yourself some fun. Did I mention that Bruce Willis appears from time to time, sporting a beret, sending up his whole "Die Hard" macho persona?
"Death Proof" is another story altogether. It's a Tarantino special, in which a famous 1971 B movie, Richard Sarafian's "Vanishing Point," is invoked a lot. This is important because "Vanishing Point," like "Death Proof," is about a psycho car chase. It's a revered cult film, which was what Tarantino and Rodriguez are aiming for with "Grindhouse."
In "Death Proof," four young women who are on location shooting a cheerleader movie in Tennessee take a day off for a road trip. Two of them (Thoms, Bell) are stuntwomen.
They borrow a for-sale Dodge Challenger for a test drive that includes one of them strapping herself to the hood and the other driving wildly fast.
When they encounter a murderous Russell (who's already shown his sick side in a previous sequence with McGowan and a trio including Sydney Tamika Poitier, Jordan Ladd and Vanessa Ferlito), tables are turned.
Tarantino's film, as opposed to Rodriguez's, is very talky. While "Planet Terror" is nonstop mayhem, Tarantino includes long stretches of the "Cheer Up" movie's crew chit-chatting first while they're crammed into a Chevy Nova and later while waiting to scam the Dodge owner.
Luckily, the dialogue is amusing enough, and the wait is worth it. The ensuing car chases are hair-raising, Bell's stunt work is amazing and Russell is his amusing, snarly best as he gets his comeuppance.
Add to all this Nicolas Cage making a cameo as Fu Manchu in one of the four witty fake trailers, and Tarantino himself making Hitchcock-like appearances in both films, and the appeal of "Grindhouse" just goes through the roof.
The package may not be for everyone. The first film is quite bloody and gory, and not for the faint of heart, that's for sure. There's one sequence of torture in the beginning that will send many scurrying under their seats. But all the violence in "Grindhouse" is broadly comic and so over the top that it's aimed at a teenage mentality.
But that's the pleasure of it, too. You can tell that both Rodriguez and Tarantino just had a ball (or balls, it's an inside joke from "Planet Terror") making these movies, and the audience has one watching them.
The real people who started rock 'n' roll went back to the place where it all began Sunday, the Brooklyn Paramount Theater, for a reunion show so fresh and meaningful that it made the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony look really ridiculous.
That's because several of the acts who appeared at the Paramount — now part of Long Island University's Brooklyn campus — have never been admitted to Jann Wenner's private fiefdom.
They include Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Penguins, Johnnie and Joe and Bobby Lewis.
Only the Drifters and Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, two reworked groups, can claim their original group members in the Hall of Fame. They were on the bill Sunday, along with Kenny Vance and the Planotones, a doo-wop tribute group that has a massive following because of their verisimilitude.
Oh boy, if only the Rock Hall audience could have heard Anthony Gourdine's magnificent falsetto on his group's classic ballads "Hurt So Bad" and "Goin' Out of My Head." The man is 66 years old and he hasn't lost a bit of his soaring voice.
The rest of the Imperials, including originals Clarence Collins and Ernest Wright, are no slouches either. And what's nice about this group is that, like the Dells, they lasted long enough to make it from doo-wop into R&B. This is no small achievement.
There were several other lovely moments as "Cousin Brucie" Morrow — now on Sirius after being unceremoniously dumped by CBS Radio in 2005 — emceed with his usual panache.
Bobby Lewis, decked out in a custom made three- or four-piece robin's-egg-blue suit, shimmied to his grand hits "Tossin' and Turnin'" and "One Track Mind."
Joe Rivers, formerly Johnnie and Joe, gave it his all on "Over the Mountain, Across the Sea" with a new younger, female partner.
Charlie Thomas' Drifters (one of two groups that tour with the Drifters name) were surprisingly good on their many hits. "Save the Last Dance for Me" almost reached some kind of nirvana moment, in fact.
If you don't know Kenny Vance and the Planotones, they are worth checking out. They have become sort of doo-wop preservationists, and the show they put on is extra exciting because they are so talented.
Vance, who is a generation younger than the artists he idolizes, has a natural falsetto, and the group provides meticulous harmonies.
Before the show started, a group of us took an unofficial tour to see the balcony of the Paramount. The school, it turns out, has left the ornate brass ceiling and some wall sconces in place.
But the school has also walled off the balconies, and turned the floor into a basketball court. The first balcony has simply been abandoned, and now it's decaying in a most unpleasant way. This is despicable and should be rectified immediately. The balconies need to be restored properly.
It's sad to see what's happened here simply because the Brooklyn Paramount, as many have pointed out, was the site of the very first rock 'n' roll show in 1956. Fats Domino and Buddy Holly were on the bill.
Considering that so many yuppies have moved to this area of Brooklyn — Fort Greene — you would think the school could advertise the venue as one with history. Instead, they treat it like a thorn in their side. It's wrong.
At the same time, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, with more than $11 million in its coffers, should be front and center donating funds or raising money to restore this historical monument.
The theater was built in 1928 as a movie and concert palace and closed in 1962. Among the artists who played there before Alan Freed took over with his rock reviews were Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington, Lambert Hendricks and Ross and even the Cab Calloway Orchestra in 1932.
By the way, this show was produced by Deborah Nader, the wife of famed oldies show promoter Richard Nader. He should also be in the Rock Hall of Fame, along with countless others who have been maliciously overlooked by Wenner's mob. How can you take it seriously when both Neil Sedaka and Neil Diamond aren't in it?
Deborah Nader now runs the business since Richard retired. But he will always be remembered as the man who invented the oldies circuit in the early 1970s, riding the wave of popularity caused by the movie "American Graffiti." God bless him.
Speaking of other important names in the history of rock 'n' roll: The New York Times finally got around Sunday to reporting the March 1 death of 67-year-old Joel Brodsky, the famous photographer whose work was on the cover of countless hit albums.
His most well-known photo was the iconic one of Jim Morrison, shirtless and looking a bit dazed. He's not in the Rock Hall of Fame either.
Hy Weiss, 84, was a rock pioneer. He charmingly helped invent payola, but I'm sure in the nicest way. His label, Old Town, included several early rock hits including "So Fine," by the Fiestas; and Billy Bland's "Let the Little Girl Dance." Old Town was also the home of the great crooner Arthur Prysock. Each of these men will be missed.
By the way, just so we're clear: Madonna is eligible for the Rock Hall next year and will no doubt get in. However: Chubby Checker, the Penguins, Orioles, Flamingos, Five Satins and the Skyliners are not in.
Billy Preston, Mary Wells, Todd Rundgren, Dionne Warwick, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, Yes, Chicago, Genesis, the Moody Blues, the aforementioned Neils, Herb Alpert as a performer, Carole King as a performer, the Hollies, the Zombies, ELO, Hall and Oates, the Turtles, the Monkees — not to mention the Dave Clark Five, who were cheated out of induction this year — all remain outside.
Other acts now eligible for induction: Dire Straits, Eurythmics, Squeeze, XTC, Dexys Midnight Runners, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, Bon Jovi, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Run DMC, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and Cyndi Lauper.